02 SES 12 C, Structures in VET and Governance
Vocational education and training (VET) in dual apprenticeship systems relies on institutional arrangements among a multitude of actors. These arrangements have been characterized as fragile (Busemeyer & Trampusch, 2012) because they are marked by competition and negotiation between different actors with sometimes diverging goals (Culpepper & Thelen, 2008; Rüegg, 1987). Socio-economic developments and policy reforms might put these institutional arrangements to a “stress test” or disrupt them.
The maintenance of dual VET systems depends on their capacity to adapt to change. Today, Switzerland has one of the most encompassing dual VET systems with over two third of school-leavers starting an apprenticeship. The system relies on the reformed Vocational and Professional Education and Training Act (VPETA), which entered into force in 2004. This policy reform has been characterized as self-preserving form of institutional change (Trampusch, 2010). Nevertheless, its implementation was neither fast nor automatic. To adapt their training regulations to the new legal framework, all initial VET occupations had to go through an occupational reform process. This process included thorough analyses of the training content with regard to skills, labour market requirements, and transitions to higher VET (BBT, 2007). In these processes, public authorities and associations representing labour market interests worked closely together. Occupational associations (OdA) have been identified as key actors for the establishment or transformation of VET systems (Thelen, 2004; Trampusch, 2010). Their activities are twofold: On the one hand, they are key for fostering the contribution of companies to VET (Culpepper, 2003). On the other hand, they represent their members’ interests in national-level VET governance and work together with public authorities for the design and implementation of VET policies (Culpepper, 2003; Thelen, 2004).
The Swiss case is particularly interesting, because the organizational form of the associations of labour market actors in charge of VET is not regulated: The membership of firms and even host companies in such associations is voluntary. Therefore, today’s organisational landscape in Swiss VET governance is marked by heterogeneity.
Size matters because it is associated with available resources and with influence in policy-making. The small OdA are the ones that found it most difficult to implement the 2004 VET reform due to their limited financial and human resources. So far, most studies about the influence of associations in institutional processes focus on peak-level or otherwise influential associations (e.g. Micelotta & Washington, 2013, Trampusch, 2010; Wettstein & Gonon, 2009). The role of small and less resourceful associations in institutional processes has rarely been studied (Lawrence, Leca, & Zilber, 2013). Nevertheless the study of associations’ concrete practices during the introduction of new VET policies showed that these practices are key for the successful implementation of VET (Culpepper, 2003). Therefore, this research project intends to deepen the understanding of the role and practices of small associations in changing socio-economic environments.
Our theoretical background is the concept of institutional work by Lawrence and Suddaby (2006), which states that institutions need to be actively created, maintained or disrupted through the actions of individuals and organizations. This type of action is defined as institutional work, which is “the purposive action of individuals and organizations aimed at creating, maintaining and disrupting institutions” (ebd.: 215). The concept focuses on the knowledgeable, creative, and practical work of individuals and collective actors attempting to shape institutions.
We address the following questions: Which different practices did small occupational associations develop to deal with the recent Swiss VET policy reform? How can the diverse outcomes (creation, maintenance, and disruption of occupations) be interpreted?
In this research project, we use a qualitative comparative case study of three occupational organisations to explore their institutional work after the 2004 VET policy reform. Building on Lawrence and Suddaby’s taxonomy, we distinguish practices concerning the regulative, normative, and cultural-cognitive dimensions of institutions (Scott, 2008). We also distinguish between institutional work targeted at external stakeholders and the association’s members, which either succeeded or failed. The cases selected are the OdA of the weavers, the cable car mechanics and the musical instrument makers. They represent three of the smallest occupations in the Swiss VET system and therefore allow identifying the types of institutional work in which small associations can engage. However, the outcome of their institutional work was different. Whereas the cable car mechanics were able to create a new occupation, the weavers maintained. In contrast, the musical instrument makers were a case of disruption because they were not able to retain their different individual occupations and needed to merge. The case studies are based on organizational documents (annual reports, scripts for oral information at the annual general meeting, etc.) and theory-generating expert interviews with representatives of the occupational associations (Bogner, Littig, & Menz, 2009; Helfferich, 2011). The different sources served to identify the phases of occupational reform processes (Langley, 1999). A thematic analysis of the interview transcripts and documents was used to identify discursive and reported practices. The types of practices suggested by the institutional work approach were used as sensitizing concepts for the coding process (Kelle & Kluge, 1999). Finally, the comparison of the three cases allows for a deeper understanding regarding the interplay between different forms of institutional work and heterogeneous organizational environments that result in different outcomes.
Preliminary results show that the weavers’ OdA seized the opportunities the reform offered and avoided the extinction of VET for artisanal weavers. It managed to access additional funding, to join a network for defending its interests, and to increase its visibility. To do so, it used different types of institutional work towards internal and external stakeholders. Overall, the analysis allowed insights into the complex cooperation practices of a multitude of actors situated at different administrative levels. It shows that a strong commitment to VET on the part of public authorities and associations as key intermediary actors is necessary for the maintenance of VET systems. The association of the cable car mechanics was able to create a new occupation. They limited risk for the regional public authorities, which are responsible for organizing and financing the school-based part of the training. Instead,, the association created their own training centre in a mountain region. They financed the development of training regulations and the centre through various sources: a branch fund, funding for the support of economic development in mountain regions, and contributions from private foundations. By adapting this strategy, the association limited public authorities’ resistance against the creation of a new occupation even in a context, in which the number of occupations was reduced by the state. The analysis of the musical instrument makers’ OdA as an example of disruption isn’t yet completed. Results on that will follow soon. In comparing systematically the institutional work and contrasting successful and failed outcomes, we intend to contribute to the theoretical perspective of institutional work in heterogeneous organizational environments. Furthermore, we also intend to contribute to a deeper understanding of the survival or extinction of occupations and the role of individual and collective practices in these processes.
BBT (2007). Handbuch Verordnungen. Bern. Bogner, A., Littig, B., & Menz, W. (Eds.). (2009). Interviewing Experts: Palgrave Macmillan. Busemeyer, M., & Trampusch, C. (2012). Introduction: The Comparative Political Economy of Collective Skill Formation. In M. Busemeyer & C. Trampusch (Eds.), The Political Economy of Collective Skill Formation (pp. 3-40). Oxford: Oxford University Press. Culpepper, P. D. (2003). Creating Cooperation: How States Develop Human Capital in Europe. Ithaca: Cornell University Press. Culpepper, P. D., & Thelen, K. (2008). Institutions and Collective Actors in the Provision of Training: Historical and Cross-National Comparisons. In K. U. Mayer & H. Solga (Eds.), Skill Formation: Interdisciplinary and Cross-National Perspectives (pp. 21-49). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Helfferich, C. (2011). Die Qualität qualitativer Daten (4 ed.). Wiesbaden: VS Verlag für Sozialwissenschaften. Kelle, U., & Kluge, S. (1999). Vom Einzelfall zum Typus: Fallvergleich und Fallkontrastierung in der qualitativen Sozialforschung. Opladen: Leske + Budrich. Langley, A. (1999). Strategies for theorizing from process data. Academy of Management Journal, 24(4), 691-710. Lawrence, T. B., Leca, B., & Zilber, T. B. (2013). Institutional Work: Current Research, New Directions and Overlooked Issues. Organization Studies, 34(8), 1023-1033. Lawrence, T. B., & Suddaby, R. (2006). Institutions and institutional work. In S. R. Clegg, C. Hardy, T. B. Lawrence, & W. R. Nord (Eds.), The SAGE Handbook of Organization Studies (2nd ed., pp. 215-254). London: Sage. Micelotta, E. R., & Washington, M. (2013). Institutions and Maintenance: The Repair Work of Italian Professions. Organization Studies, 34(8), 1137-1170. Rüegg, E. (1987) Neokorporatismus in der Schweiz. Berufsbildungspolitk. Kleine Studien zur politischen Wissenschaft. Zürich: Institut für Politikwissenschaft. Scott, W. R. (2008). Institutions and Organizations. Ideas and Interests: SAGE Publications. Thelen, K. (2004). How Institutions Evolve. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Trampusch, C. (2010). The Politics of Institutional Change: Transformative and self-preserving change in the vocational education and training system in Switzerland. Comparative Politics, 42(2), 187-206. Wettstein, E., & Gonon, P. (2009). Berufsbildung in der Schweiz. Bern: HEP Verlag.
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